Teach me how to swim at the gym
September 22, 2011 1:49 PM   Subscribe

What can I wear (other than a traditional bathing suit) while swimming at the gym? And how to start a very gentle swimming regimen while dealing with major back problems?

Hello, all. So i've suddenly got an L4/L5 herniated disk and I'm dealing with it medically. But getting into a pool sounds really, really good. Not so much for the workout aspect of it, but just for some gentle motion, even just floating, that might be a nice change from the extreme pain I've been dealing with.

I have a gym pool that I can go to, and I can go during non-peak hours so I don't have to jump in the midst of hardcore swimmers. But I have some questions:

-- I don't currently own a bathing suit, and because of the back pain I'm really not in the mood to drive around town looking for one. More importantly, I'm not in the mood to keep my bikini area in check, aesthetically speaking, when I'm dealing with so much pain. Is there something I can swim in that has a less exposed bikini area, yet doesn't break swimming pool etiquette? Is there actually a swimming pool etiquette when it comes to your outfit? What if I wear my regular workout clothes, like tight capri pants and a t-shirt? NG?

-- What are the accepted protocols for beginning/gentle swimming in a shared pool? I imagine I can slowly use a kickboard. What else?

Are there other things I should be thinking about? My disk and I thank you in advance.
posted by BlahLaLa to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
What you want is at Lands End. They sell separates in a wide variety of modest styles. You can also call for a consultation. It's great for longwaisted ladies as well.
posted by bq at 1:54 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

They probably won't let you wear workout clothes. Can you order online something that is more modest (like a skirt - they're not just for old ladies anymore!).

The protocol really depends on the pool. Sometimes they're good about segregating lanes for different speeds, but I've never been to a pool that wasn't welcoming to people who are injured, disabled, old, etc.
posted by Pax at 1:57 PM on September 22, 2011

Your gym may have rules about what clothes are allowed in the pool - the ones I've seen explicitly disallow street clothes.
posted by rtha at 1:58 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

What if I wear my regular workout clothes, like tight capri pants and a t-shirt? NG?

You'll get a lot of weird stares, I think, plus won't be able to swim freely. Soggy capri pants don't make for a good pool experience. How about keeping the swimsuit top and replacing the bottom with a pair of bicycle shorts?
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:58 PM on September 22, 2011

Modest styles.

Plenty of racing suits (even the cheap ones) have jammer-style legs these days. You could always just throw some board shorts over a regular suit.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:59 PM on September 22, 2011

How about triathlon shorts (here's a pair for $30) + bikini top or sports bra? I've seen triathletes wearing this gear to train in my gym pool, and they're made for the water, so I don't see why you couldn't wear them. They will be much more comfortable in the water than regular clothes .
posted by angab at 2:03 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know your size, but if you're plus-sized, Junonia carries a lot of biker-short style swimsuits. Something like one of their "aquatards" is perfect for when you don't mess with your bikini line.
posted by not that girl at 2:05 PM on September 22, 2011

I wouldn't recommend regular workout clothes, because they're not designed for swimming, especially the materials.

Take a look at Land's End as others have suggested. They have women's swim shorts in various lengths, as well as the swim skirts already mentioned. If you're not comfortable with a regular swim top, you can wear a rash guard or swim shirt on top of your swimsuit. At my old gym, I saw plenty of people, both male and female, wearing some kind of swimming shirt.

As for rules, ask your gym about them. They might have hours set aside for lap swims, or slow swimmers, or reserve lanes for different speeds. We don't know your gym's rules.
posted by needled at 2:08 PM on September 22, 2011

My bathing suit is from Land's End. It has shorts and a tank-top style top with a high neckline. It is great for sports, and I don't have to worry about my "personal grooming." Order a bunch of sizes, try them on in the comfort of your own home, send back what you don't want. And it has an unlimited lifetime warranty, so I can send it back if it somehow wears out. It's a great system.
posted by decathecting at 2:12 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Regarding gentle or slow swimming. My pool has a lane it calls "Leisure", it has a picture of a star fish. Technically, you are supposed to swim laps during the "lane" swim, but come on - the picture is a star fish! The star fish lane is double wide and many people do water aerobic exercise.

I know - you aren't coming to my pool. But I'm guessing if you call, they can let you know when is the best time for your slow flutterboard and floating around routine. I'm sure you aren't the only one!
posted by Gor-ella at 2:17 PM on September 22, 2011

As for what to do, I really recommend talking to a physical therapist for ideas about that. Failing that, talk to one of the gym's trainers.
posted by bearwife at 2:19 PM on September 22, 2011

Oh, and about pool etiquette: remember that you are a member of the gym just as much as anyone else in the pool, and you have a right to be there.

However, since you are likely to be swimming slowly, do your best to stay out of other swimmers' way. That means, if you have to choose a lane to share, look for other slower swimmers to swim with. As an avid/faster swimmer, I can say that nothing is more annoying than getting a guy in my lane who backfloats and paddles slowly down the middle of the lane!

If you do have to share a lane, make sure to stay on your side (or swim on the right side, if you and your lane buddy elect to circle swim). Also, don't take it personally if you get splashed/your hands hit above or below the water. I am used to this after swimming on a team in tight quarters, but sometimes I think people take it personally when this happens, when really it's no one's fault.

Happy splashing to you...swimming really is the best rejuvenation/exercise/relaxation ever!
posted by angab at 2:21 PM on September 22, 2011

Yes, Land's End has good suits in a variety of styles, I just bought one. Look for the chlorine resistant kind if you are going to spend a lot of time in the pool. You can shop online. Also check to see if your pool has any kind of gentle water exercise class. The pool I go to has an arthritis class that is very gentle movement, and there are several people in it with back problems as well. This might be just the thing for you. If you are seeing a physical therapist they can also recommend exercises you can go in the water, and some therapy places have their own pool.

You do not want to swim in workout clothes, and nobody will be looking at you anyhow, so if you are not wearing a bikini, don't worry about that problem. Most one-piece suits meant for swimming like those at Land's End cover what needs covering quite well. If you are young and used to wearing a bikini, don't be depressed by a temporary need for an "old lady" suit. Some of the styles are actually quite nice, and it is not a beauty contest!

The water aerobics class I attend has women of all sizes, including very large, and ages from 40 to almost 90. Also varying levels of mobility and previous injury, including hip and knee replacements and back surgery. Everyone benefits from being in the water, where there is no weight on your joints and you can move in many ways you never could on land. Get yourself a suit and get in that pool!
posted by mermayd at 2:31 PM on September 22, 2011

If you want a cuter option than Land's End, Athleta sells many swim skirts and shorts.

Personally, I would not use a kickboard -- they can sort of wrench your arms and neck into a strange position. Just gently float around and see what feels good.
posted by yarly at 2:53 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Having body hair does not break swimming pool etiquette...!

However, Nthing Lands' End as a reliable swimsuit supplier. But perhaps you are overthinking in the wrong area; I have a lot of joint pain issues, I have been swimming in pools, and the rub has been in the pre- and post-pool attire. If you are stiff and sore and damp it sucks getting into something like a pair of jeans; I would encourage you to ignore fashion and get a thick, loose cotton flannel "jogging suit." I did not remove the swimsuit until I got home, even in winter, as it is much easier to remove a dry suit than a wet one, and ugly sweats were a big help there. Beware of excessively modest suits as a low back etc = ease in on/off.
posted by kmennie at 3:30 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Buy a pair of board shorts. Or even mens swim trunks. You probably don't even need to try them on. Buy a sporty/basic/whatever bikini or tankini top. Or even a camisole you already own, as long as it won't be see through.

(Wearing workout clothes is a bad idea mainly because they will get very heavy in the water - it'll make it harder to swim, and your pants will probably fall down when you get out of the pool, and you will be extremely drippy as you leave the pool to go the change room.
posted by Kololo at 3:41 PM on September 22, 2011

Nthing Land's End; their suits are great for hitting the pool while keeping you generally covered and supported. If you're looking for longer shorts than the typical boyshorts, these might work for you. Although I like boardshorts at the beach and as a to/from layer, I don't really like them for regular swimming: they don't move quite as well with me, and loose fabric can be a distraction/drag. YMMV. (Regarding the bikini area: if you have a few stragglers, they won't be visible when you're in the water.)

In addition to regular gym clothes getting soggy and heavy in the pool, they might not be built to withstand the chlorine. Pool water is harsh stuff.

Many gym pools are set up for swimming laps and don't have space for just floating around, so make sure you check out the pool and its schedule if you haven't already. Depending on the pool's setup and popularity, you might have to share a lane with another swimmer. As long as you don't bump into them, they're cool with sharing. See if you can split a lane with someone at your speed level.

If you want to do laps, I really like the backstroke: you don't have to worry about timing your breathing, and you can keep your eyes open and look at the ceiling.

Your pool may require swim caps and goggles, so that's another thing to call ahead about.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:57 PM on September 22, 2011

Nthing Lands End suits. Never bought Athleta but they're made by Gap and are probably good quality. You could just get a one-piece and wear board shorts, that's totally fine. But unless you're uber-religious I wouldn't get "modest" swimwear, that shit is meant for people like the Duggars.
posted by radioamy at 4:39 PM on September 22, 2011

Not only are wet workout clothes probably not allowed in the pool, wet clothes are very revealing. More than you'd think.

The boy-short or bike-short style swimsuit bottoms are very comfortable without being a fall-down risk, covering, not a tangle/drowning risk, AND are generally quite easy to put on and take off without having to do the wiggle-wiggle dance, which is kinder to your back anyway.

I wonder if there is a provider of swimsuits specifically for mobility-impaired women that have suit tops that zip or corset-hook closed (in a non-trashy way) up the front? That would require the least amount of shoulder and neck movement, if that was a thing you could order.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:14 PM on September 22, 2011

I like this zip up suit with legs. I think they run small. It doesn't seem to be on ebay at the moment, but that's where I found mine.
posted by SandiBeech at 5:23 PM on September 22, 2011

Thanks so much for these answers, everybody. They're incredibly helpful, and inspirational.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:18 PM on September 22, 2011

Late to the party, but I haven't seen anyone mention wearing a rashguard shirt (originally meant to protect surfer's bellies from their boards). They are made of thin, swimsuit-type material, so they work well in the water. I have RA, swim in a heated therapy pool, and wear swim shorts, a regular bra, and a rashguard shirt on top. The rashguard is comfortable, easy to put on and take off, and modest enough that I don't feel self-conscious about my chestular bits all hanging out. I found a regular bra was much easier to remove wet than trying to struggle out of a damp sports bra.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 8:29 PM on September 22, 2011

A triathlon suit is absolutely what you want. I was dealing with the same "show my legs? Oh no!" issues when I got mine, and it's perfect. Its legs end just above the knee, it has a shallow scoopneck, and it closes with a sturdy zipper up the front. (It's also amazingly minimizing/supportive! And the legs prevent any chub rub.) Since it's meant for triathlons, it even dries quickly.

People will recognize it as athletic wear, so you won't be That Lady Wearing Street Clothes in the Pool, and it looks sleek rather than having grandmotherly connotations like skirted suits. You also won't get odd looks like you might in a swim burka or the Mormon equivalent, even though the triathlon suit covers almost as much.

I bought mine online, and it was an easier fit than any normal swimsuit I've ever bought. The only downside is a certain amount of wiggledance when getting it on, about on a level with spanx. Sizing up a little would probably prevent that.
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:34 AM on September 23, 2011

I'd wear a top that ties on, like a bikini halter or something like that (not all of them are revealing). With a tie-on top, you can tie the part that you think will be harder to do given your back pain ahead of time, like the back or neck, and then just have one bow to make while on.

On the bottom I'd wear swim shorts, a swim skirt, or board shorts. I have short and long board shorts and no one ever looks at me funny for wearing them because it is clear that they are water apparel.
What makes board shorts not look like regular shorts is that white exposed stitching and the tie at the top, so I would look for some with those.
posted by rmless at 12:07 PM on September 23, 2011

Just in case anyone is checking this thread, I ended up buying this, mostly because I felt that long zipper was going to make getting it of and on easier on my back -- less squirming required.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:43 PM on October 16, 2011

I just wanted to follow-up one more time and say this: At the time of my acute injury I really felt that swimming would be my salvation. It wasn't. It was great to be in the water -- just sort of sitting, or moving around idly. It felt nice in a cool pool, and in a hot tub. But swimming itself was very, very difficult. Unless your abs are very strong, the buoyancy can actually make the pain worse, if you can't hold your back in whatever "correct" position relieves the pain. And in my case my abs were definitely not strong enough.

I did have some success doing water aerobics (in a group class) because the movements were done in a standing position.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:58 AM on January 9, 2012

« Older Do Really Have to Go to Therapy?   |   Difficult Person at Work Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.